Monday, February 18, 2008

Adaptation Salad (Warm Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini)

I adapted this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, after Smitten Kitchen adapted it from Orangette, who adapted it from the Casa Moro cookbook. Needless to say, its an exciting mix of flavors, and satisfies a range of palates! Next time, I'll dust the finished dish with ground sumac for a little added visual flair.

1 medium butternut squash (about 2 to 2 ½ lb.), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
1 medium garlic clove, pressed
½ tsp. ground allspice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¼ of a medium red onion, finely chopped
¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves

Tahini sauce:
1 medium garlic clove, finely minced with a pinch of salt
3 ½ Tbsp. lemon juice
3 Tbsp. well-stirred tahini
2 Tbsp. water
2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, combine the butternut squash, garlic, allspice, olive oil, and a good pinch or two of salt. Using a large spoon or your hands, toss until the squash pieces are evenly coated. Turn them out onto a baking sheet, and bake for 15 to 25 minutes, or until soft. Remove from the oven and cool.

Meanwhile, make the tahini sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic and lemon juice. Add the tahini, and whisk to blend. Add the water and olive oil, whisk well, and taste for seasoning. The sauce should have plenty of nutty tahini flavor, but also a little kick of lemon. Add more olive oil to taste, if the dressing is too sharp.

To assemble the salad, combine the squash, chickpeas, onion, and cilantro in a mixing bowl. Add tahini sauce to taste, and toss carefully. Serve, with additional salt for sprinkling.

This salad, lightly dressed, keeps well in the fridge. Hold a little of the tahini sauce on the side, for dressing at the table. Before serving, warm slightly in the microwave.

Yield: 4 servings

Creamy Potato Fennel Gratin

This gratin is exactly what a gratin should be -- rich and delectable, creamy and meltingly tender in the center, browned and crisp on the outside. I can't remember where the recipe came from at this point, but its definitely not mine -- maybe Ina Garten? Anyway, I used parmesan instead of gruyere, and next time I might use half and half or whole milk instead of the obscene quantity of heavy cream called for here. (But damn, the full-fat version was goooood.) I can't ever get enough fennel to satisfy my lust for it. We probably eat raw fennel three days out of seven; usually sliced thin over the salad at dinner, and I love its sharp bite and solid crunch. Long, slow cooking of the bulb, as in this preparation, however, turns it into a whole other comfort food experience. The potatoes are center stage here, but the slightest hint of anise flavor makes all the other flavors pop.

2 small fennel bulbs
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 pounds russet potatoes (4 large potatoes)
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 1/2 cups grated Gruyère cheese (1/2 pound)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter the inside of a 10-by-15-by-2-inch (10-cup) baking dish.

Remove the stalks from the fennel and cut the bulbs in half lengthwise. Remove the cores and thinly slice the bulbs crosswise, making approximately 4 cups of sliced fennel. Saute the fennel and onions in the olive oil and butter on medium-low heat for 15 minutes, until tender.

Peel the potatoes, then thinly slice them by hand or with a mandoline. Mix the sliced potatoes in a large bowl with 2 cups of cream, 2 cups of Gruyère, salt, and pepper. Add the sauteed fennel and onion and mix well.

Pour the potatoes into the baking dish. Press down to smooth the potatoes. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream and 1/2 cup of Gruyère and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, until the potatoes are very tender and the top is browned and bubbly. Allow to set for 10 minutes and serve.

Bittman's Fennel-Steamed Mussels Provençal

Let them eat moules...


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1/2 cup Pernod or Ricard (or 4 whole star anise)
1 cup chopped tomatoes, if desired (canned are fine, drained first)
1 sprig fresh tarragon, if desired
At least 4 pounds large mussels, well washed

1. Place the oil in a large pot and turn the heat to medium; 1 minute later, add the garlic, fennel, fennel seeds, liqueur, and tomatoes and tarragon if you're using them. Bring to a boil, cook for about 1 minute. Add the mussels, cover the pot, and turn the heat to high.
2. Cook, shaking the pot occasionally, until the mussels open, 5 to 10 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the mussels and fennel to a serving bowl, then strain any liquid over them and serve.

Serves 4

* Variation: To make the dish Asian style, combine the mussels in a cold pot with 1 cinnamon stick, 4 star anise, 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 2 tablespoons water. Cover and cook as above in Step 2. If possible, toss with about 1/2 cup of torn Thai basil leaves.

Bittman's Linguine a la Vongole

Yield At least 4 servings

Bittman writes:
"Note the techniques of barely cooking the garlic before adding the clams without liquid, to the hot oil. The liquid for the sauce comes from the clams themselves and, ideally, remains undiluted by water or wine. Astonishingly good."

* Salt and pepper
* 1 pound whole wheat linguine or other long pasta
* 3 tablespoons olive oil
* 1 dried red chile
* 1 piece dried mild chile, like ancho, optional
* 1 tablespoon slivered garlic
* 1 sprig of thyme
* 2 pounds of the smallest clams you can find, or more, washed until free of sand
* Parsley, if you have it


* 1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Start cooking the pasta when the water boils. Put the olive oil in a broad, deep skillet or casserole and turn the heat to medium; add the chile(s), garlic and sprig of thyme. As soon as they sizzle, turn the heat to medium-high and add the clams.
* 2. Cook, shaking the pan, until the clams begin to open, then lower the heat a bit. Continue to cook until most or all of the clams pop open. Drain the pasta when it’s almost tender, then add it to the clams and stir.
* 3. When the pasta is done and the mixture is saucy (you can add a little of the pasta-cooking water or a little more oil if necessary), add black pepper, salt if necessary (it might not be), parsley if you have it, and serve.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Wicked Molten Chocolate Cake

A spicy homage to the "Wicked Hot Chocolate" down at Jacques Torres. I first made this cake for Bill's birthday in '06, inadvertently creating the first of a number of "exceptional food moments" that made him consider that he might oughta wanta marry me. This is one sexy little dessert: explosive, dramatic, toe-curlingly good.
(Photo by Pornchai Mittongtare)

3 1/2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 stick unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
Pinch of allspice
2 large eggs
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 - 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
Additional powdered sugar
Vanilla ice cream for serving

Generously butter 2 3/4-cup soufflé dishes. Stir chocolate, butter, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and white pepper in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until melted and smooth. Cool slightly. Whisk eggs and vanilla in large bowl to blend. Whisk in 1/3 cup powdered sugar, then chocolate mixture, then flour. Transfer batter to prepared dishes, filling to top and dividing equally. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Preheat oven to 425°F. Bake cakes until batter has risen above dish, top edges are dark brown, and centers are still soft and runny, about 15-17 minutes, or about 18-20 minutes for refrigerated batter. Run small knife around cakes to loosen. Allow cakes to rest in dishes 5 minutes. Using hot pad and holding dish very firmly, place plate gently atop 1 cake and invert onto plate. Repeat with remaining cakes. Dust with powdered sugar. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
Yield: two cakes. Each cake serves two.